At the confluence of fine dining and backcountry innovation you will find Shannon Waters and her backcountry cuisine, playfully dubbed Gastro Gnome. While the company is still in its infancy, the culinary skills and recipes have been in the works since long before Waters arrived in Bozeman.
Cooking for friends and family in college set Waters on her culinary journey. A connection through her family’s farm ultimately led to a job in the kitchen of the renowned Little Nell restaurant in Aspen. During her time in Colorado, Waters realized the desire to pursue a life in the food industry, having developed a love for farm-to-table, a theme that has remained consistent throughout her career. While attending school at the International Culinary Center in New York, Waters held an internship position at Blue Hill and upon graduating she quickly found herself working under top chefs at Marea.
Delicious cuisine in wild places was the basis for creating Gastro Gnome, which offers travel-ready, packable meals that just require a little boiling water and some time before they can be enjoyed on a mountaintop, at water’s shore, or anywhere in between.
“Everything occurs under one roof,” Waters says of her small-batch preparation. “If there is squash, for example, it’s in there because it came through our front door and was chopped by us. It’s important for us to remain very in tune with our food as well as the local community. [The meals] are flavorful because we care about the ingredients, the layering of flavors, and the final balance that delights the eater, wherever they are. They’re tasty because nothing is an afterthought. Every detail, pinch of salt, and aroma matters.”
It was during a kayak and camping trip with friends at Tomales Bay in California that the idea for Gastro Gnome began to form. “I was not going to compromise on this trip,” Waters laughs. “I wanted to cook delicious meals in the backcountry and brought a bunch of fresh ingredients in addition to the cast-iron pan.” Before too long though, the heavy pan became a burden. She was still working in the restaurant industry, now in San Francisco, but the wheels were set in motion for Waters to bring together her culinary expertise and backcountry gastronomy.
During her next boat excursion, this time on a river in northwest Montana, Waters packed freeze-dried food. “That moment of eating freeze-dried food was the spark,” she says. “I immediately asked myself if I could do it better and fuel adventures with real food.”
Intent on spending more time in the outdoors and bringing better food options to the backpacking industry, Waters settled in Bozeman in 2017. The name Gastro Gnome is a play on the word “gastronome,” which means someone who loves good food. The gnome influence came about, as Waters says, “because they live in the woods and are easy to transport because they’re small and compact.”
Each meal is freeze dried, a process that requires advanced equipment to eliminate moisture content. Gastro Gnome is currently offered in five recipes: Spicy Italian Sausage Rigatoni; Indian Yogurt Braised Chicken; Almond Pesto and Mushroom Ragu Farfalle; Thai Green Chicken Curry; and Mexican Red Chicken Pozole, all weighing between 5 and 6 ounces and packaged in durable resealable bags. All you have to do is add hot water, wait fifteen minutes for the meal to rehydrate, then enjoy. Waters also offers a vanilla bean ice cream sandwich—but don’t worry, no water is necessary for this freeze-dried treat.
Waters began selling her packaged meals in December 2020 after two years of recipe development. Recently, she began offering nationwide shipping on two of her products in addition to in-store pickup at the company’s Gallatin Valley headquarters in Four Corners or at Second Wind Sports. Her entire line is available for shipping throughout Montana in an effort to serve the Montana community first.